What is it? How do you get it? How do you treat it?
What exactly is Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?
DOMS, as it is also known, is the sensation of pain, soreness, and stiffness in exercised muscles after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. This can occur from several hours to three days post exercise. Though the actual mechanism is not completely understood, Dr. Cohen says “studies suggest that symptoms develop as a result of microscopic damage to the muscle fibers involved in certain exercises, particularly in muscle cell membranes and the bands that connect muscle cells”.
After a workout, your body automatically begins the process of repairing the damage to muscle fibers causing low-grade pain. The saying “no pain, no gain” is actually accurate because although your overall fitness is improving, you will experience aches and pains along the way. Certain types of movement or exercise, known as eccentric muscle contractions where the muscle lengthens as it contracts, can cause low-grade pain. According to Dr. Cohen, an example of this is what happens as the quadriceps or thigh muscle engages while walking or running downhill.
Can DOMS be prevented?? Dr. Cohen suggests “when starting a new exercise program, it is advisable to gradually increase the intensity of the program.” In other words, don’t overdo it! She also cautions, “beware of overstretching which can also result in sore muscles, especially if you haven’t warmed up adequately before exercising”. If these precautions don’t help, there are treatment approaches. “Increasing blood flow to the muscle and immersion in cool or icy water has shown to be effective in some studies”. According to Dr. Cohen, who also suggests refraining from the activity if symptoms occur, “if pain increases and becomes more severe- if there is swelling of the limb- or if you notice your urine color darken- seek medical attention. Muscle breakdown can put excess stress on the kidneys. When in doubt, see your doctor.”